Tuesday, September 04, 2018 - 5:15 PM

Statement from the Mayor: Petty Harbour Long Pond Water Supply

Last week, we had a very rare experience in St. John’s – an issue with our water supply.

Quality water is a fundamental service the City provides, and one which we take very seriously. In fact. it is important to note that the quality of our water is amongst the best in the country.

Over the past week, we have heard comments from some that the City has known about serious issues with our water, issues with health consequences for the residents, that we have not spoken about publicly. Nothing could be further from the truth. The integrity of our water supply is one of our most important commitments – and we would never take any unnecessary risks with our water.

The City monitors the quality of our water daily over the entire system, and we commonly get complaints about discoloured water, especially in the summer. This can be caused by a number of different factors, but it is most commonly corrected by flushing the system.

In this case, we are dealing with a naturally occurring element, manganese.

In early August, we began to get reports of brown water throughout the Petty Harbour Long Pond water supply area, but results were not consistent; an area with high manganese one day had low levels the next. Only localized areas were affected, as is still the case. Based on the number of complaint areas and our analysis, the City decided to err on the side of caution and notify the public on August 28.

Issues with manganese are not uncommon - in fact, other places in the province have experienced this in their towns. Our staff are working with experts on this matter now to help us identify ways we can address this – first at the neighbourhood or street level and then with our water system overall.

In the short term, we have consulted with experts in water quality on measures we can take to reduce the level of manganese in our water and in our pipe, including new technologies and water main cleaning. Unfortunately, we do not know at this point how long this will take.

Over the long-term we will be investigating additional treatment process at the Petty Harbour Long Pond Water Treatment Facility.

In communicating this to the public I think one issue we continue to struggle to communicate effectively is the fact that manganese is naturally occurring in our water and is present all the time.

Most of the readings we’ve taken throughout the system are below acceptable levels as set out by Health Canada, and we’ve followed their new guidelines – ones that have not yet even been put in place – in terms of warning parents of children one and under to avoid consumption of manganese-high water.

I’ve personally spoken with a number of people about this issue, and we are monitoring the discussion on social media closely. I recognize that people are questioning and fearful, and it is difficult to counterbalance that with good, solid facts and information, but it does seem that the message is getting through.

The fact that schools in the service area are providing bottled water to students seems to be concerning to some people, but to me it makes perfect sense. The problem we are having right now is an intermittent problem – it comes and goes. Children are not as likely to look at what’s coming out of the fountain as you or I might be.

As an adult, you can monitor the clarity of your drinking water – if it is clear, there isn’t high manganese in it. If it’s coloured, manganese may be present. Now it may be present at a level that won’t cause any harm, especially over a short period of time, but why not be cautious and avoid drinking that water?

I listened with interest to a chemist with Memorial University on CBC Radio last week who said, and I quote: “Manganese in general, just to put people’s minds at ease, is one of the least toxic metals…in order to see any physiological affects the concentrations have to be much, much higher than what we are seeing.”

I’m not a chemist, or a doctor or a public health official – I can’t give health advice or explain in detail about manganese and the water supply. But I am the Mayor and I am responsible for ensuring that residents get good quality water. I don’t take that responsibility lightly, and I’m not willing to risk holding off on talking to you about issues like this while we get more information, or we wait and see if we can fix it - this Council is not that Council.

I want to commend our expert staff who are working very hard to find a fix for this situation, as soon as possible, and who are working to ensure that clean drinking water is available to households impacted at the water stations.
 
If you need assistance with this, our water station at the Blackler Avenue City Depot is manned from 1 -4 p.m. daily; or you can contact Access St. John’s if there are barriers to mobility that you need to discuss with us.
We have made arrangements for a few residents, as required, and will continue to do so as long as this situation occurs.
 
I know this is inconvenient – and worrisome – for many of our residents. For that I am truly sorry. We will continue to keep you informed – this is top priority for us as a Council – and are working aggressively to find possible solutions.

Mayor Danny Breen